There are so many different types of Moxibustion that practitioners have many choices in the application and form of “Moxa” used with patients. Moxibustion as a healing practice is as old as acupuncture itself; in fact, the Chinese word for acupuncture, zhenjiu, refers directly to this technique. Moxibustion is believed to have originated in China over 2,500 years ago, though it is likely that more rudimentary forms of Moxibustion may actually predate acupuncture.
Like all traditional Chinese treatments, the goal of Moxibustion is to bring the body into balance and ensure a consistent flow of qi. In this case, balance is achieved by the burning of Moxa (ai ye in Chinese herbal medicine), or dried Mugwort (artemesia vulgaris in Latin), close to or directly on the skin. This powerful medicinal herb has a long history in both China and the West, and is perhaps best known in America for its close association with the “witches” of Medieval Europe. This is because of its frequent use in folk remedies, particularly to ease stomach pain, menstrual irregularities, anxiety, and itchy skin.
When used by a skilled practitioner of Chinese Medicine, Moxibustion can help stimulate sluggish, deficient or stagnated qi with the introduction of therapeutic heat. In so doing, it amplifies the healing effects of acupuncture and alleviates chronic stagnation.
Practitioners may use direct or indirect methods to administer a Moxibustion treatment. There are benefits and drawbacks to both, and you may find that the modality you are offered will depend on the clinic’s and patient’s preference.
As the name suggests, direct Moxibustion entails direct (or extremely close) contact with the skin. While a patient relaxes on the acupuncture table, a practitioner will ignite an incense stick to light the Moxa “wool.” The herbal wool smolders, creating warmth, on the relevant acupuncture points, which vary depending upon the patient’s condition and other personal attributes.
In the west, practitioners often use indirect Moxibustion, which is generally carried out in one of two different ways. In the first, the practitioner will hold the smoking end of a Moxa stick very close to the skin, until the acupoint adequately warms. This signifies that blood and other vital fluids have been directed along the correct meridians, and can begin to heal the patient’s ailments. (Many modern clinics use slower-burning, smokeless Moxa sticks, which may be a comfort if you’re concerned about smoke inhalation.) Indirect Moxibustion may also be performed with a tiger warmer, or using something as a buffer between the stick and the skin, such as salt, aconite, or slices of ginger or garlic. This warms the body deeply.
Another indirect method is to wrap smaller balls of Moxa around acupuncture needles and light them until smoking. The heat is driven down the needle shaft and into the acupuncture point, enhancing the effects of the needling. Usually, a ball of Moxa wool will be placed on just one or two of the needles in each session. Many patients report a warm, soothing sensation during and even after a session of acu-moxibustionM